Cars in Books, December 1972

I have mostly given fiction a miss in this apparently never-ending series, but I thought Rolls-Royce folk would like the following, from “The Long Good-Bye” by Raymond Chandler (Hamish Hamilton, 1953): Of a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith in America: “. . . over her shoulder she had a blue minx that almost made the Rolls-Royce look like just another automobile. It didn’t quite. Nothing can.”

Then, although it is quite out of context, I would mention “Narrow Gauge Railways of Mid-Wales” by J. I. C. Boyd (Oakwood Press, second edition, 1970) for an interesting reference to the 15-in, gauge locomotives ordered just before his death in the 1924 Monza GP of Count Louis Zborowski. The author says of the Count that “motor racing claimed his first attention”, although he had laid down 150 yards of the Higham’s Railway, presumably as a test-line for the forthcoming Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch line he was planning with Capt. J. E. P. Howey. (Incidentally. I think there may be a book about Howey’s motor racing and narrow-gauge railway work before long.) Apart from this reference to a racing motorist, Boyd’s book should be read by all who contemplate travelling over the Welsh narrow-gauge lines as part of their next year’s holiday. Finally, for this month, a reader, Mr. P. A. W. Dunt of Kuwait, sends the following extracts from “Forty Years In The Wilderness” by H. St. John Philby in which the chapter entitled “T. E. Lawrence and his Critics”, of happenings, in December 1921, contains some interesting references to Rolls-Royces, as follows:

“Lawrence and I descended the hill in the gloaming to dine with Peake, as usual, to discuss an expedition to the Mafraq district, planned for the morrow. I return to my diary of the day’s doings.

“The whole day was devoted to an excursion to Mafraq and the neighbourhood in connection with the firing on the south-bound train, referred to in my note of the 29th. An armoured car and a Rolls-Royce tender having been mounted on two trucks the previous evening. Lawrence and I repaired to the station at 9 a.m., but some delay ensued while the train was being formed; and in the end it was found to be too heavily loaded for the engine to haul up the steeper gradients. Four trucks were therefore detached, to await a special train the following day to Damascus: they were full of grain for the Syrian market, between which and ‘Amman brisk business is being done this season. The run to Mafraq was my first trip into the interior, as hitherto I had seen nothing but the ‘Amman-Jerusalem road; and it was full of interest. First there was the run down the Jabbok valley to al Rusaifa, a little village perched on the hill-side and overlooking a wide area of cultivated land, irrigated by runnels from the stream flowing through it. Then came the climb up out of the valley to al Zarqa and its station, with the old Hajj Qal’a standing out from the village on a spur of the bluff. Then the broad pilgrim way, with its myriad winding camel-paths, trodden for centuries before the railway by the camels of the Syrian Hajj. Ever and anon there were fascinating groups of Roman milestones on both sides of al Samra station in a desolation of basalt screes: the station itself and a grim Roman, or older, village in the neighbourhood being entirely built of basalt. Then there were the bridges and culverts of the line, each reminiscent of some exploit of Lawrence’s guerillas during the war. And, finally, the long stiff climb up to the Mafraq plateau, whose vast extent suddenly burst upon us, as we reached its rim, extending afar off to the volcanic hills of Jabal Druz, and marked here and there by some dark village, like Umm al Jamal, sinister under the shadow of black storm-clouds.

The trucks with the vehicles were shunted into a siding, provided with a ramp for the unloading of cars; but the ramp itself was not in good shape, and the personnel handling the job lacked experience. But, after strenuous efforts, the job was done, though it was 3.30 p.m:, with only an hour and a half of daylight left, when we started off on our quest across roughish country to westward of the line. Lawrence and Gordon led the way in the tender, while I rode in the armoured car with the men of the RAF. Lurching over hill and dale, much pitted with the burrows of a rat called Khulind by the Arabs, we duly reached the tents of Ibrahim ibn Ghazi, shaikh of the Mushaqaba section of the Bani Hasan tribe. He and his folk had little difficulty in convincing Lawrence, who was of course in command of the expedition, that they had nothing to do with the incident we were investigating. A little further to the north, we came upon two groups of tents. Towards the first, belonging to the Sirhan tribe, a large procession of men, all armed, and women was wending in connection with some wedding festivities. They too disclaimed any connection with the train shooting; and we turned towards the other, situated on somewhat higher and rougher ground, which the armoured car managed only with some difficulty. At the top we found ourselves in a very large encampment of the Jabaliya tribe, an Arab clan based on Jabal Druz, in which we sought out the tent of the shaikh, Ghazi by name. The interrogation of the chief was conducted by one Sindah, an ‘Ataibi henchman of the Amir ‘Abdullah, under Lawrence’s guidance, while the rest of us were mere spectators. It soon transpired that these were the folk who had fired on the train, and while admitting the impeachment, Ghazi tried to make us believe that in fact they had been defending themselves from a raiding party of another tribe when the train got in the way. Lawrence was not standing for that, and it was getting very late. He was admirably calm and determined, as he told Ghazi that he would have to accompany us to ‘Amman to explain the conduct of his tribe to ‘Adbullah himself. It seemed to me that we were not in a very strong position to insist on anything; but Ghazi, being assured of his personal safety, did agree to come with us despite loud murmurs of dissent from his people. As we walked towards the cars. Ghazi’s wife intervened to stay her lord. More argument ensued round the cars, and one of the Arabs ejaculated: “Get in, and spare us all this fuss!” Nevertheless Ghazi found it impossible to resist the clamour against his going in person, and it was finally agreed that his son should take his place. Receiving his father’s mantle and head-band, he mounted with us to the tune of tears and shrieks from his own wife, who was obviously big with child. And soon we had left the camp far behind.

For a while it was light enough to see our way, but darkness overtook us as we reached the line, along which our route southwards towards Mafraq over rough stony ground was a very slow affair. We reached the station at 7 p.m., but the loading of the cars on the trucks proved to be more difficult than the unloading had been and we eventually gave it up as a bad job. So the cars, with their crews, were left behind for the night under A. R. Macdonald, the officer in charge of transport, while Lawrence, Gordon and I started back for ‘Amman at 9.30 in the engine.’ ”

Finally, for this month, there is reference to an old Jowett in “The Smell of Privet” by Barbara Sleigh (Hutchinson, 1971). The author is describing “a very old, two-seater Jowett” bought by her mother, which gave the family very great pleasure, before the war. Alas, she says it had “the engine at the back”, which no Jowett ever had, and she goes on to emphasise this by a story of how, bowling along Frederick Road in Birmingham, the gear-lever came away in her mother’s hand and at the same time the car “ground to a clanking stop”. When a passing cyclist was asked to help he was astounded to find no engine beneath the bonnet. Now this makes the car appear to have been not a Jowett but a Trojan. However, this theory is punctured because elsewhere the car is described as having a dickey-seat, which no Trojan ever had. Puzzling! I seem to recall another reference in another book to a rear-engined Jowett but whether by the same author, I do not remember. That the aged car took the family as far afield from Birmingham as Llanfair although the driver was in “complete ignorance of its mechanics”, merely pushing one thing and pulling another to stop and start it, suggests a Trojan, for how otherwise, would she have managed the Jowett’s gearbox ? That the ancient small car with a cracked silencer which made a noise ascribed to the machinery, and paintwork that had “been reduced by old age to a matt surface of a dull iridescence, like a dead bluebottle”, served well is apparent and I leave the matter of whether a Jowett or a Trojan would be the more likely to shed its gear-lever to the respective Owners’ Clubs, if, indeed, the matter is worth arguing. — W. B.